A professor at the University of Michigan is receiving backlash for refusing to write a recommendation letter for a student applying to study abroad in Israel.
Associate digital studies professor John Cheney-Lippold, initially agreed to write a recommendation letter for his student Abigail Ingber, but when he realized that she was applying to study in Israel he rescinded his offer.
In an email to Ingber he wrote, “I am very sorry, but I only scanned your first email a couple weeks ago and missed out on a key detail.” He continued, “As you may know, many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine. This boycott includes writing letters of recommendation for students planning to study there.”
“I should have let you know earlier, and for that I apologize. But for reasons of these politics, I must rescind my offer to write your letter,” he added.
Cheney-Lippold concluded the email saying he’d “be happy” to write a letter for her under a different circumstance.
A copy of the email was posted on social media by Club Z, captioned, “An unbelievable email from a University of Michigan professor, who has refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student because she will be studying abroad in Israel. We hope that the U.S. Department of Education will take note of this case, in light of their recently adopted definition of anti-Semitism, which includes double standard for Israel.”
The post went viral, generating a lot of dislike toward the professor.
Facebook user RM Bellerose wrote, “absolutely unbelievable. this professor is a miserable excuse for a human being.”
Another person Hadassah Vered wrote, “Wow, disgusting and shocking!”
But the professor also garnered support from many people. Facebook user Filip Frącz said, “I think this is a legitimate form of protest against the perpetual occupation of Palestine. Recommendation letters are a favor, not an obligation, and professors can do as they please.”
The University of Michigan has spoken out about this issue saying that it rejects boycotts, sanctions, and divestments (BDS) against individual countries and people. In a statement released Monday, the school said, “It is disappointing that a faculty member would allow their personal political beliefs to limit the support they are willing to otherwise provide for our students.”
The statement goes on to say, “While members of the University of Michigan community have a wide range of individual opinions on this and many other topics, the university has consistently opposed any boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education.”
“No academic department or any other unit at the University of Michigan has taken a stance that departs from this long-held university position,” the university added.
Many critics are saying Cheney-Lippold’s decision was anti-Semitic, but he is adamantly denying these claims. In an interview with the Michigan Daily, he said, “I follow the idea that people who are being discriminated against or people who need help… I feel compelled to help them. I was following a call by representatives of Palestinian civil society to boycott Israel in a very similar tactical frame as South Africa. The idea is that I support communities who organize themselves and ask for international support to achieve equal rights, freedom and to prevent violations of international law.”
CNB reports that the university will be having a “deep discussion [with faculty] to clarify how the expression of our shared values plays out in support of students.”
Photo courtesy: Unsplash/Toa Heftiba